December 30, 2011
Backlash: Other Russia Activist Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison
As 2011 came to a close, Other Russia activist Taisiya Osipova was sentenced in Smolensk to ten years in prison for the sale and possession of narcotics. Osipova, who suffers from several serious diseases and has a five-year-old daughter, was kept in detention for over a year before hearing the verdict. The opposition and human rights activists consider the Osipova case political and symbolic for Russia.
“After Taisiya Osipova’s verdict, the opposition’s struggle for power in Russia has turned into a struggle against pure evil, into a fight on the side of good,” wrote Sergei Aksenov, a former National Bolshevik and a leader of The Other Russia, on his Twitter account. And he’s not the only one: on the evening of December 29, the Runet seethed with indignation, and the word “bitches,” addressed to the authorities in general and the judiciary in particular, was one of the mildest epithets.
According to oppositionists, the main representative of evil in the Taisiya Osipova case is Yevgeny Dvoryanchikov, judge of Smolensk’s Zadneprovsky District Court. It was he who on December 29 sentenced Osipova to ten years in prison for possession and sale of drugs under Article 228.1, Paragraph 3 of the Criminal Code. The fact that Osipova has diabetes, pancreatitis and chronic pyelonephritis, and that she has a five-year-old daughter, Katrine, made no impression on him. (The World Organization Against Torture had twice appealed to Russian authorities to release Osipova.)
True, Dvoryanchikov still did not have not an easy time making the decision: he retired to chambers to write the verdict at twelve noon, returning to the courtroom at around midnight (he began reading out the verdict at 11:15 p.m.). It is not clear why Dvoryanchikov took so long to write the verdict and what was going in his chambers during this time. Other Russia leader and writer Eduard Limonov has already labeled the judge’s actions “vile” and an attempt to conceal the verdict from the public.
The general public does not know about the Osipova case, despite the fact this past summer (when the verdict was supposed to have been rendered), Other Russia activists staged a sit-down strike over several days at the Solovki Stone in downtown Moscow. The police confronted the strikers as best they could, surrounding the square and detaining the harmless activists as they made their way to the stone.
Osipova was arrested on November 23, 2010, when five packets containing an unknown substance and marked bills were found in her home. Osipova was charged with possession of narcotics possession under Article 228.1, Paragraph 3 of the Criminal Code.
According to police investigators, Osipova had sold four grams of heroin for three thousands rubles, and an additional nine grams were found in her home. Defense attorneys and journalists were alarmed by the fact that the witnesses during the controlled buys [staged by police] were three young women associated with pro-Kremlin youth movements. At the same time, the [packets containing the] seized substance were not fingerprinted: defense attorneys are thus certain that the heroin was planted in Taisiya’s home.
Other Russia activists have always maintained that the Osipova case is utterly political. Her husband, Sergei Fomchenkov, is a member of The Other Russia’s executive committee. Osipova claimed that the police investigators who detained her told her directly that they were not interested in her, but in her husband, who lives in Moscow. Fearing arrest, Fomchenkov never once traveled from the capital to Smolensk to visit his arrested wife.
Alexander Averin, a representative of The Other Russia and ex-press secretary of the banned National Bolshevik Party, told Lenta.Ru that police had immediately promised to give her ten years if she did not testify against Fomchenkov. The guilty verdict was not a surprise for the opposition, although few had expected such a harsh sentence (despite the fact that the prosecutor had asked the judge to sentence Osipova to twelve years and eight months in prison).
“I see Dvoryanchikov’s face: he knows there is nothing to the charges. He’s just carrying out orders. It’s not his decision, but he’s an ambitious careerist, and doesn’t want problems. So I just have to get to the appeals stage and keep working,” Osipova herself said in an interview with Grani.Ru in December.
Svetlana Sidorkina, an attorney with the human rights association Agora who, along with Smolensk lawyer Natalya Shaposhnikova, served as Osipova’s defense counsel, told Lenta.Ru that, in the wake of the verdict, defense attorneys intend both to file an appeal and petition the [European Court of Human Rights in] Strasbourg. Sidorkina has no illusions about the prospects of an appeal. “We definitely hoped for the best, but we also didn’t rule out such a [harsh] outcome. I assumed that the sentence would be six and a half years, while Shaposhnikova [thought it would be] eight, but unfortunately we both guessed wrong,” said the lawyer.
The Other Russia now intends to fight for Osipova, and is counting on public support. In December 2011, civil society in Russia, especially in Moscow, suddenly and powerfully made itself heard. Tens of thousands of people came out for the fair elections rallies on Bolotnaya Square and Sakharov Boulevard, and almost a thousand people came to a protest in defense of [arrested] Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov.
“This is a slap in the face of civil society. People came out and demanded honesty and justice from the authorities, and this was the response — Judge Borovkova, the arrests of Udaltsov and Nikitenko, and, to top it all off, a ten-year sentence for Osipova. The state has recovered its senses and delivered a counterblow. I wonder how society will react to this — will it go celebrate the New Year or will it defend the freedom of political prisoners?” Averin put it emotionally last night.
He added that the traditional Strategy 31 rally on Triumfalnaya Square on December 31 would be dedicated to Taisia and political prisoners in general. “Lots of people are indignant over this verdict. Different people have been calling me who weren’t planning to come out on December 31 but who have now decided to go,” said Averin. On the night of December 30, there in fact were appeals on the Internet to go to the unauthorized rally in support of Osipova on Triumfalnaya Square.
A year ago on December 31, Boris Nemtsov and Ilya Yashin, leaders of the Solidarity movement, were arrested at a Strategy 31 rally. They both rang in the New Year behind bars: Nemtsov was sentenced to fifteen days in jail, while Yashin was sentenced to five. In 2009, Sergei Mokhnatkin was arrested during a New Year’s Eve rally: he was later sentenced to two and a half years in prison for [allegedly] assaulting a police officer.
It is a big question whether “enraged city dwellers” will take to Triumfalnaya Square over the harsh verdict handed to ex-National Bolshevik Osipova. Or are rigged elections the only thing that, for the time being, can really enrage them?